“As great as this past year was, I’m more excited about FY15 than I’ve ever been,” said Microsoft’s David Pann, General Manager for the Search Network, by phone this week about Bing Ads as the company starts its next fiscal year. “All the fundamentals are set,” he added.
Recapping the successes of this past year in a new blog post, Pann says clicks are up by 30 percent, mobile clicks rose by 133 percent from the previous year and they’ve seen broader advertiser adoption in the 35 markets where Bing Ads is now available around the world.
Pann told me they’re seeing solid advertiser adoption even in markets where Bing’s market share is not particularly strong — Australia is one example. He cited three key drivers for Bing Ads’ latest momentum: new algorithms and ad formats, greater commitments from publishers and effective sales teams bringing on more advertisers globally.
So what features are in store for FY15? More scale, faster data insights, reduced friction and new ad formats.
Adding Search Scale
On the scale front — the number one request from advertisers — Bing is getting integrated into more third party platforms and devices as well as Microsoft’s own products, which should mean more search volume. Bing is now an integral part of the Windows platform, and Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, is the latest to have Bing integration, including personalized interest cards appearing on the Bing home page.
Apple announced in June that Bing would be included in its new version of Spotlight on the Mac OS X “Yosemite” operating system and iOS 8 mobile operating system — and dropping Google. Apple’s Siri already uses Bing for search. Amazon’s new Fire phone also uses Bing for search. And with Nokia, now owned by Microsoft, Bing gets in on both Windows phones and Android devices like the Nokia X phones.
Other partners include Yelp, Netflix, Facebook and Foursquare.
In another effort to help attract more big advertisers and deliver the scale they need, Bing Ads just increased the number of keywords advertisers can manage to 100,000. Pann says they’re planning to scale that to 1 million keywords by the end of the year.
Faster Data, Less Friction
Data lags used to be as long as four hours in Bing Ads reporting — impacting the effectiveness of bidding platforms. Now, Pann says, performance reports will soon be available within 30 minutes, and the aim is to continue reducing latency. (Note: A previous version stated this capability is already available.)
A UI refresh will bring much-needed improvements in load times. Another added feature will allow agencies to create and manage insertion orders digitally.
More refined targeting options including more day and time and zip code options will be coming as well.
New Ad Formats
Enhanced sitelinks are among the ad format efforts Bing Ads is looking at for the coming year, as well as video extension enhancements. App install extensions and image extensions will also be tested. Pann shared that they’re currently running a pilot for catalog extensions with several large catalog companies.
When asked about the Hero Ads test the company ran last year on Bing Smart Search with a handful of large brand advertisers, Pann says they learned a lot from that test. You may remember that test started around the same time Google piloted banners on branded search queries. Both experiments have ended, but that Hero Ads pilot is informing Bing Ads’ future plans.
“We learned advertisers and users liked the Hero Ads, but advertisers want more volume. We are now taking those learnings and integrating them into our core offerings for more scale.” Image extensions and rich media ads are two examples of ad formats that have been informed by the Hero Ads experiment, says Pann.
Looking Ahead: Mobile, Bid Modifiers, Automation
I asked Pann where he sees the desktop-to-mobile ratio moving in the near future. He says desktop continues to be their bread and butter, but that mobile will overtake that. It’s not just Windows devices that will make mobile a growing base of volume for Bing Ads, but Apple and Android, predicts Pann.
Last month, Bing Ads began to combine desktop and tablet traffic as Google AdWords does. Pann reiterated in our discussion this week that the move came after advertisers said they wanted standardization with Google for ease of use. Asked specifically about the limited -20 percent floor, Pann said, “We will listen in ongoing dialogue,” adding, “We are trying to work with advertisers to get as much data as possible to understand where bid adjustments should be.”
Pann has also noted that bid modifiers would play a bigger role in 2015. When I inquired about what that might mean, he said there is a plan to move more toward bidding automation on advertisers’ behalf. The automation Pann alluded to ”can happen based on audience, time of day and device.” That will be a big step forward, particularly for smaller and mid-sized advertisers that aren’t using third-party bid management platforms, if the automation proves effective.
Many of these changes, of course, can be seen as Bing continuing to chase Google’s tail, but there are also glimmers of ingenuity and differentiation. Bing Ads has never been shy about their place as number two in the search market. But the tone has been changing over the past year, in particular, and Pann’s excitement about this coming year was palpable.
There seems to be a greater fire in the belly and a revitalized energy (perhaps in part due to Satya Nadella, who oversaw the birth of Bing, taking the helm as CEO) that Bing Ads can and should be taken seriously as a viable complement to Google AdWords — and a solid complement can compete more strongly for budget share.